Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Last 2 residents leave Arkansas institution for people with disabilities

From The AP:

ALEXANDER, Ark. — The last two residents of a developmental disability center that the Arkansas Department of Human Services announced last year would close have packed up their belongings and are at their new home in northeast Arkansas.

The men loaded metallic red and green gift bags filled with presents from Alexander Human Development Center (pictured) staff members onto a library cart and then put them into two vans that took them to an apartment in Walnut Ridge on Monday.

"Someone has spent the night here every night since 1931," said Charlie Green, director of developmental disability services for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which operates the state's six human development centers. "Last night was the last time they'll do that."

The two men, now roommates, were the last of 109 residents transferred out of the central Arkansas center, which the Human Services agency decided in June 2010 to close on the recommendation of Gov. Mike Beebe. A review had found that it would take a 40 percent to 50 percent increase in its $10.9 million annual budget to make needed changes in staffing and programs.

A month earlier, the center lost its status as a Medicaid provider and the funding that comes with it after the Office of Long-term Care found it failed to meet federal requirements for protecting its residents.

The Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, a federally funded nonprofit organization that monitors publicly funded care facilities, has criticized the centers.

"I think we still have our same concerns that we've had in the past," staff attorney Dana McClain told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

"Alexander is the first big institution to close. I think the fact that it happened in a positive way showed that: (1) it's doable and (2) that Arkansas is ready to do that."

The Justice Department sued another center, the Conway Human Development Center in January 2009, claiming that the state favors institutionalization for the disabled, is heavy-handed with the use of outdated restraints and too often uses medication to control behavior.

The federal agency then sued the state's five other centers in Alexander, Arkadelphia, Booneville, Jonesboro and Warren in May 2010 alleging that the centers' developmentally disabled residents are illegally separated from the rest of society.

Chief U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes dismissed the second lawsuit for technical reasons, but hasn't issued a ruling in the Conway suit.

An organized group of family members of the facilities' residents argued against the closure of any state-run unit, praising the care their loved ones received.

"When the decision was made, our parents were aghast," said Larry Taylor, president of Family and Friends of Facility Residents. "Any change is uncomfortable, but that one was quite scary."

Those fears were largely calmed as Matt McCue, a private contractor hired to help with the transition, worked to find the residents placements, Taylor and Green said.

As the transitions took place, the staff began hearing positive feedback from former residents who now live closer to home.

The state began tracking placements in July, when 104 men remained in the Alexander center, said Amy Webb of the Human Services Department.

Of those men, 42 moved to other human development centers, 61 moved into community programs paid for through special Medicaid vouchers and one moved into a nursing home.

The 80,000-square-foot concrete building in Alexander was originally constructed as a tuberculosis sanitarium for black patients 70 years ago and became a human development center in 1968. It will be offered to other state agencies before the Developmental Disabilities Services Board considers selling it.